After playing email tag for about a week to schedule this interview, I was relieved when I was greeted bright and early Monday morning with a wide, pleasant smile. Diane Tomb is one of those women that you meet for the first time and already feel like friends. When I sat down at our little table outside a Starbucks in Capitol Hill, I couldn’t believe it when I checked my watch and saw we had gone over time (and I was late for work)!
An immensely intelligent and personable woman, Diane was successful early in her career. Her first job was working in the office of Vice President Bush, a position that propelled her into decades of experiences, both in politics and business, that ultimately lead her to open up her own strategic communications shop in 2003, Tomb and Associates.
Diane, one of five children, felt her parents gave her a sense of entrepreneurship that she’s carried with her in every new role. It was those values that led her to leave her firm for two years (she returned in 2013) and run the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). NAWBO is the largest trade organization representing women business owners.
Diane has experienced firsthand what it’s like to start her own business, and the challenges that go along with that, as well as heard the voices of the millions of female business owners across the country.
“Women need to support other women,” she said to me.
And that’s how we came to be sitting across from each other early on a Monday discussing the value of Empowered Women.
It’s D.C., everyone always focuses on “what you do” and “who you work for”. It drives me crazy. What do you do besides work that makes you, you?
I’m a mother of three children, two daughters and a son. It was my turn at carpool today, which is why I was able to meet you so early! I’m originally from Philadelphia. I grew up one of five kids, and my parents really treated us all the same. They gave us a sense of entrepreneurship and taught us to be financially independent. I think that’s one of the most important things. If you are financially independent as a person, you give yourself so many choices in life.
Tell me a little bit about your career path, how did you get here?
I moved to D.C. right after college with my friend and ended up getting my first job while I was talking to a stranger waiting for her to meet me for lunch! We were making casual conversation while I waited, and she told me to apply for a position in the Vice President’s office. Throughout my career, I’ve found that it’s all about relationships. If you maintain good, professional relationships with people, they will bring you along with them. Often, we expect to be noticed for our hard work and our good work, but that isn’t always the case. If you build out those relationships with the people in your network, they will remember you. There was never really a good time or right moment to start my business, but I knew it was something I always wanted. So when I got started, my first clients came from those relationships I had built over the years.
I have a list of people that were good to me, that helped get where I am. I could list them all off right now, and that’s how I feel. I am happy to help people.
What do you think the biggest barriers are to women becoming entrepreneurs and owning their own businesses?
Women are a big barrier to themselves. There have been lots of times when I was the only woman sitting at the table, but when you add value everyone forgets about that one factor. I do think women need to learn how to ask for what they want. They need to take initiative. Younger women seem to be much better at this than older generations. I think Empowered Women can help bridge the gap between what the older and the younger generations know and believe.
I also believe in flexibility in the workplace. I think having a job where the work is meaningful and challenging is important, but it also matters that you have the flexibility to make choices and grow into a better employee or leader. When I worked at Burson Marsteller, they let me take a leave of absence to work on the Dole campaign. I came back having learned a lot and we were all better off as an organization.
Are there any surprising statistics you can share with me about women small business owners in this country?
There are 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the US and they employ 7.7 million people. That’s 40% more than the three largest employers McDonalds, IBM & Wal-Mart combined.
What do you think makes someone an “innovator”?
It’s people who are willing to go against the norm and not accept the status quo. They are the “disruptors’’. Today, there is a lot of support for these people, but they’ve always been around. Being an innovator means you understand that just because things have traditionally been done this way, doesn’t mean it’s the right or the only way.
What book do I just have to read?
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success! It’s all about having a “growth mindset”. It’s my book I give to people.
Finally, what does empowerment mean to you?
Forging your own path and definition of success…it also means helping others along the way!
Kelsey Jarrett is the Digital Marketing Coordinator for the Republican National Committee, passionate about digital advocacy and promoting positivity. She lives in Washington, D.C. and spends all her extra time and money traveling or planning to travel.